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County not ready to embrace smaller board

The number of supervisors serving on the 31-member St. Croix County Board won't be reduced anytime soon.

A report on the feasibility of cutting the board to 21 members met with mixed reaction Tuesday. The Administration Committee will consider the comments and continue discussion, said County Board Chairman Buck Malick after the meeting.

Administration Committee members, who have been studying the issue for four months, said reducing the number of supervisors won't save much money because the remaining board members would take on more committee assignments. But, some said, it would result in a more efficient operation.

Other supervisors worried about the loss of representation for county voters, especially those living in rural areas.

Each St. Croix County Board member represents about 2,400 residents. Per diem and expenses paid to supervisors total about $110,000 each year.

Aiming for an efficient legislative body "is highly inappropriate," insisted Hudson Supervisor Bill Cranmer.

"It would be efficient to have a dictatorship," he said, adding that efficiency is appropriate for business that must maximize profits.

But, he said, county boards and other legislative bodies listen to different bosses and have to reconcile demands from citizens, federal and state government, local municipalities, businesses and environmental groups.

Numerous people that he has talked with have suggested reducing the size of the County Board, said Supervisor Daryl Standafer, North Hudson. In fact, he said, the only people he has ever heard say the board shouldn't be trimmed are County Board members.

New legislation signed by Gov. Jim Doyle in January gives county residents the power to force a change in the board's size through a referendum.

Standafer suggested supervisors should take the lead and reduce the board to a number that is workable instead of waiting for a referendum that could cut the board to any number.

"That would force us to do whatever that referendum says," said Standafer.

Currently county boards across the state have anywhere from seven to 38 members.

Administration Committee member Don Jordan said each Florence County supervisor represents about 450 people while each Milwaukee County supervisor represents about 37,600 people.

He said 19 or more supervisors are needed to fill all the slots on St. Croix County committees.

Cutting the number of board members wouldn't skew the urban/rural representation on the board, said Standafer, because the new districts would be created by dividing the total population by a smaller number.

And, he said, because the workload would stay the same, the money saved would be modest.

But, said Standafer, a smaller board would be more efficient.

He said the St. Croix County Board has just two members fewer than the Wisconsin Senate.

If 33 state senators can represent effectively all the citizens of Wisconsin, it seems logical that a smaller number could fairly represent all the citizens of St. Croix County, said Standafer.

As populations and demands grow, many town boards are expanding from three to five members "to spread out the workload," said Supervisor Richard King, town of Star Prairie.

"I think that 31 is a good number (for the County Board)," he said.

"What are we doing? We're not saving anything," said New Richmond Supervisor Esther Wentz, wondering if there is any benefit to downsizing.

"We represent real people, real issues that happen to all of us," said Wentz. She said she doesn't believe the public cares what size the board is as long as it provides the needed services.